Why Star Trek Online needs lots of combat


Note: The image above is my beta character right at the beginning of the tutorial. I’m hoping to have some more time with the game over the weekend, with a view to writing up my own impressions next week.

Star Trek Online is well into open beta when I write this. Syp has compiled a long list of various blogger’s first impressions if you are curious as to how the game is being received, but one comment that I have heard from fans is that … Trek shouldn’t be a combat centric game. After all, in the episodes, the crew are much more likely to be brokering diplomatic treaties, discovering cures for space lurgy, or just messing around with Q.

In response to this, an anecdote from my pen and paper years. As an undergraduate engineer, we were all sent off to a one week course in a factory in Birmingham to teach us to use machining equipment (it was considered essential that all qualified engineers know how to use a lathe, grinder, arc welder, and other machine tools — even software engineers). So there we were, staying in a pretty rough area where the nightlife wasn’t, and it wasn’t safe to wander around late anyway. One of the group had brought his Star Trek RPG books with him so we got a game together to pass the time.

It was great. But every time anyone did anything cool, they got court martialled. My character got court-martialled once for setting her phaser to kill even though she didn’t shoot anyone with it. That is the Star Trek universe if you play it according to canon. The hijinks that the crew of the Enterprise get up to in the TV series will get YOUR character court-martialled. And they were mild compared to the antics that a group of player characters (PCs) will typically manage.

So if Cryptic choose to stir things up by declaring all out war all over their background, it should be considered a great boon for immersion. Why? Because in times of war, even Star Fleet will actually let you kill people and generally take part in the sorts of mad derring-do that people play games for in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, a more canonic version of the Star Trek ethos would be fun, and would probably work great in a single player game where you can really play up the inter-character drama and interesting choices that players might need to make. (I’m thinking that a Star Trek themed game like Dragon Age would be terrific fun, but we do have Mass Effect 2 coming up for those who want to get their Bioware Sci-Fi game on). But when you have lots of players milling around in your world, especially when said world has largely negated the need for crafting or currency, you probably do need to let them shoot things.

Or else instead of Star Trek Online, you will end up with Star Fleet Court Martial Online.

13 thoughts on “Why Star Trek Online needs lots of combat

  1. For me, it is the Starfleet Command series put online. Which was probably my favorite ST game (especially part III), together with ST: Armada.

    Starfleet Command III was probably more tactical when it comes to combat, less action oriented – but this makes the space combat quite fun. It also rewards player skill and experience. There are some basic maneuvers one must learn, like switching to full engines and turning around if a whole horde of Klingons trains their disruptors on you. On the other hand the game just respawns you when you die. It is just a good feeling showing people who get blown up in seconds how to survive a horde of angry Birds of Prey! 🙂

    I am still afraid that players who would have wanted a more story/world oriented STO are disappointed with the focus on space and the smallish away missions, who are even more action packed when you think about it.

    This might hurt the true Trekkies the most, on the other hand the game is wonderful for players who always wished that Starfleet Command III’s multiplayer mode would not be so incredibly bad.

    This is also the reason why I renewed my preorder. I like the space combat so much. Though I must admit, the game has still too many bugs this late in development. 😦

    Hint: If you order at Direct2Drive, you get a preorder code. Feel free to order at Amazon to get a 2nd preorder code and cancel the order afterwards. You should now have two preorder keys active on your account. Thus you get the D2D bonus items and the Borg officer from Amazon.

    • Longasc: A correction – according to the STO pre-order faq, you cannot get the pre-order bonuses for any item unless you also apply the corresponding retail key, and the pre-order bonuses only become active when the game goes live. So you can’t cancel the Amazon pre-order and still get the Borg officer.

  2. I see the combat two ways. First, the Federation is at war; times are bad. Worse than they were for most of the TV shows (if you read all the text during the tutorial you’re told this; it’s why you got a command in the first place).

    Second, the tv shows *did* have a lot of combat, but much of it was off-screen with the Enterprise arriving after the fact. How many times did they come upon the wreckage of some unfortunate vessel while they were exploring?

    I’m ok with the combat, honestly. The non-combat missions I’ve done (not many, really) haven’t been all that engaging.

  3. Wotcha Spinks,
    I think you might have been unduly influenced by someone running a role-playing game in which you *had* to do things the “correct way”, but which they themselves might have got wrong.
    There is plenty of violence in all of the Star Trek series. And to be perfectly honest, some of the better episodes are the ones with more violence. Maverick action abounds in Star Trek; why else would the Federation be so boring? It’s a plot device to be worked around, not through! However…
    If I want violence in an MMO, I can go to any other AAA MMO. Aion has plenty, and will even let me grind it extensively.
    Star Trek Online’s attraction is its IP, and that IP showcases diplomacy and understanding as a way to resolve differences, not just violence and war. So to take that difference and then just discard it for easy combat and cheap thrills?
    More than disappointing. If I just want combat, there are plenty of games offering that, and they’re doing it remarkably well. And their thrills are cheaper.

    • One of the flaws of star trek as a RPG setting is that the original crew were exceptional. The FASA game really hammered this home so it’s not really the GMs fault for playing as written. So even though you watch the show and think ‘ah, in the game we’ll get to do that’, the actual game punishes you if you try to do that because they were often playing fast and loose with starfleet rules.

      But yeah, I get your meaning. On the other hand, my husband commented that he played star trek a bit with his old pen and paper group and they also had a lot of PC court martials.

  4. My problem is that combat seems all the game is any good at.

    Any of the other sorts of missions just involve going to an objective and clicking on it, be it an anomaly, a console, or a person. There’s no choices or skill involved.

  5. Anyone who knows Star Trek knows that it’s about “seeking new life and new civilizations” and not “seeking new people to kill”. I that right there is why a lot of Trekkies are upset about the path that STO has taken.

    I’m not a Trekkie, or a really big fan of ST in general, but I fall into the camp of those who are a bit disappointed by the tack Cryptic has taken. I can accept it, though, for the same reasons that Pete has mentioned. I’m mainly sad because every single MMO out there uses combat combat combat at it’s centerpiece. Star Trek COULD have stood for much more then just blowing stuff up…it’s PURPOSE is stated at the start of every show and every movie.

    Don’t get me wrong: the more I play, and the more I discover, the more I like it, but I’m sorry Cryptic took the easy path when they had a lot of potential opportunity to expand beyond the worn tropes.

    • True, but it also usually involved the Enterprise being the only ship within range of the new stuff. Which doesn’t really work when there are lots of PC ships flying around.

      I think adding massive numbers of players AND wanting to give them reasons to play together works against the solitary explorer theme. That’s not to say they can’t do it via instancing but it’s a difficult chasm to cross I think, thematically.

  6. Apparently none of the Star Trek fans playing ST:O are DS9 fans, cause there was plenty of shady action in that. From O’Brien going undercover with the Orion Syndicate to Bashir’s games with Section 31 and all the way through Sisko involving himself in the murder of a Romulan Senator, there was plenty of “non-diplomatic” behavior.

    “That’s why you came to me, isn’t it captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren’t capable of doing. Well, it worked. And you’ll get what you wanted: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant, and all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal… and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a bargain.”

    – Garak

    “So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing, a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it… Computer, erase that entire personal log.”

    – Sisko


    • DS9 wasn’t all that well received by many “core” Trek fans for precisely those reasons. To be sure, it’s a pretty good show, but it’s not quite what people had come to expect.

      What makes me most sad is that gaming in general is mostly based on killing stuff. The 25th Anniversary Trek adventure game showed that you can do the Trek IP without being combat heavy. I keep wishing that they could have ported that into an MMO arena.

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